About Senate House

A new home for the University
On 26 June 1933, on a plot of land opposite the British Museum bought with a donation from the Rockefeller Foundation, King George V laid the foundation stone for Senate House.

Three years later, a century after the University was granted its first Charter, the building welcomed its first occupants. After decades of wandering, in which it occupied five different buildings, the University of London finally had its first permanent home. Watch a short film about the construction of Senate House.

Top to toe
Senate House, from its Portland Stone-clad exterior to its carefully co-ordinated interiors, was designed by Charles Holden, who had made a name for himself with his work for London Underground. Senate House is his mature masterpiece intended, as described by former Vice-Chancellor Sir William Beveridge, as ‘something that could not have been built by any earlier generation than this, and can only be at home in London.’

In this Holden succeeded. From the tip of its 209-feet-high Tower, making it the tallest secular building in London upon completion, to its tile clad basement, the building was the epitome of 1930s modernity. As well as the University’s world-famous library, whose book stacks were located in the Tower, the building contained administrative offices and meeting rooms. In these, according to a contemporary source, ‘electric light, bell, and telephone positions can be varied without disfigurement’. It was the first large-scale building in the country to be heated by electricity, using an early form of storage heater. The offices were naturally ventilated, but an early form of air conditioning was installed in the main public rooms.

Refurbished, rewired, restored
After 70 years, in which time Senate House has been taken over by the war-time Ministry of Information, Holden’s Grade II* listed masterpiece was in need of attention. The £55 million refurbishment, which began in 2006, was the largest programme of works undertaken by the University since Senate House opened.

The works included providing the building with modern, upgraded and more cohesive office space, improved meeting and teaching facilities and new and enhanced library resources.

The University’s work of overseeing examinations has evolved into the provision of a wide range of value-added activities and services to the Colleges in the University and beyond, services ranging from distance learning and research facilitation to career development advice and information technology solutions.

The refurbishment of Senate House has allowed the University to rationalise and improve the efficiency and cost-effectiveness of the space it occupies. Whereas it originally housed approximately 165 staff, the building, along with the neighbouring Stewart House – built on the site originally intended for a grand Ceremonial Hall – now houses some 700. The concentration of staff into these two main buildings not only has brought with it gains from physical proximity, but also has released outlying buildings for income-generating occupation by others. Holden’s 20th-century masterpiece is now equipped for the next stage of the University’s evolution.

Further information can be found on a website dedicated to the history of Senate House

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